Why You Shouldn’t Fear Breast Cancer

Women fear breast cancer more than any other disease, according to numerous surveys, and yet, it’s heart disease, not breast cancer, that’s the leading killer of women.

So why is the fear of breast cancer so profound and prevalent? It may be partly because no one knows exactly what causes breast cancer; it often seems to strike out of the blue.

But it also could be because “we often associate our breasts with our sexuality, and for many women they’re an important part of their nurturing and bonding experiences with their children,” notes Helen Coons, Ph.D., a clinical health psychologist in Philadelphia who specializes in working with women who have or are at risk for breast cancer. So the idea of finding cancer in that valued, symbolic part of the body naturally engenders fear.

Plus, “most women know women who’ve gone through complex treatment or sat with the uncertainty of breast cancer” and how it will affect their futures, Coons adds. “It’s easy to put off a diagnostic test where a finding could confirm the fear” of having to go through it themselves. 

As unpleasant as it is to live with the fear of developing a dreaded disease, in this case, it makes many women avoid breast cancer screening altogether. But it’s a mistake to let your fears and assumptions interfere with your efforts to protect your breast health. To help yourself overcome the fear factor and take action, remember that the vast majority of breast lumps are benign, not cancerous, Coons says. And even if a lump is cancerous, when breast cancer is caught early, it’s highly treatable, and “the long-term survival rates are extremely high,” Coons notes.

To make early detection more likely, heed the following advice:

  • Review your family history (on both your mom’s side and your dad’s). Then discuss your risk of breast cancer, based on family history as well as personal medical history, with your doctor, advises Dr. Victoria Seewaldt, professor of medicine and director of the High-Risk Breast Cancer Clinic at Duke University.
  • If you have a history of breast cancer, get an annual magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan of your breasts. Also do this if you have a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation or received radiation to the chest (with other cancer treatments, for example), recommends Seewaldt.

    If you have a BRCA 1 or 2 mutation, annual MRIs should start between the ages of 25 and 35; if you have a strong family history, “start 10 years before the youngest person in your family got breast cancer,” advises Seewaldt.
     
  • Do monthly breast self-exams. Breast self-exams are good for finding fast-growing cancers that can develop in between annual screenings, says Seewaldt. If you find a lump -- while examining your breasts with a flat palm or while soaping yourself in the shower -- report it to your doctor.
  • Get annual mammograms, starting at age 40. “Mammography is a good tool for finding most breast cancers -- especially estrogen-receptor-positive and HER-2-positive ones,” says Seedwaldt.

“It’s important not to turn this into a culture of fear,” Dr. Seewaldt says, “because women are more than their breasts. It’s important to take good care of your overall health and keep the whole body healthy. If you do that, most breast cancers are curable.” Knowing this should help you breathe a deep sigh of relief.

           

Are you afraid of breast cancer? Tell us in the comments below and connect with us @Completely_You

The One Way to Stop Ruining Your Diet

When you’re trying to lose weight, do you spend time unhappily pushing the scale around the bathroom floor until you get a satisfactory reading? Do you weigh yourself once a day? Twice a day? Every day? Do you feel good about yourself -- or bad -- for the rest of the day based on the number you saw?

If so, you’re on your way to becoming what I call “scale dependent”. According to the journal Obesity Research, a whopping 46 percent of American women and 33 percent of American men are dieting at any time. And many of them jump on the scale at every opportunity.

But if you’re trying to lose weight, this is actually one of the worst things you can do. Obsessive scale hopping can sabotage your diet when you’re confronted with natural weight fluctuations.  You can get so involved with the “how many pounds have I lost” game that you forget that the scale is only a tool to help you gauge your progress.  It’s not the judge and jury that decides whether you’re a good, intelligent or even attractive. The worst part: Feeling bad about the number can make you give up your efforts completely.

The good news: You can break your bad scale habits and do better on your diet as a result.  Here’s how:

Step 1: Recognize the reasons for ups and downs.

Everybody’s weight fluctuates, not only day by day, but even hour by hour. Here are just a few of the causes:

· Too much sodium: The amazing Tom Yum Gung you had at your favorite Thai restaurant last night can show up the next morning as a 2-pound gain because all the sodium it contained made you temporarily retain water -- not because you’ve actually gained two pounds.

· Too much stress: An argument with your boyfriend, spouse or mother-in-law (or any other pesky people in your life) can also lead to weight gain because of the stress it creates.

· Too little sleep: Studies show that too little sleep, especially over several nights, might give you a temporary reading on the scale that could send you right off to the supermarket for a consolation box of chocolate covered doughnuts.

· And don’t forget: Hormonal changes, constipation and medications you’re taking can also contribute to short-term gains that disappear when the causes do.

Step 2: Use your scale correctly.

There’s nothing wrong with keeping track of your progress. But try weighing yourself just once a week -- same time, same place, no shoes. (If you can do it in the buff, even better.) If you’re not getting the results you want (and you’re being totally honest with yourself about any extras you’ve consumed during the week), it’s time to reassess your program.

Step 3: Remember the real rewards.

Losing weight is hard work, and we all want to hop on the scale and get our reward. So sometimes we lose sight of the real prize -- and it’s not a particular number. It’s being healthier, no longer envying thin people, finally loving our thighs and saying good-bye to a closet full of black loose-fitting everything.

Along the way, on my own weight loss journey, I decided to try to live a
“scale-free life”. I shoved the scale into the back of a very messy closet, hoping it would be too hard to go through mops, brooms and a toilet plunger to get my daily fix. It didn’t work.

OK, it was time for plan B: I gave the scale to Good Will.

It was a hard thing to do, but I was proud that I broke the habit. Now when I want to check how much I weigh, I do it once a week at the gym. I’ve come to think of the scale not as a friend or foe, but as a tool that’s simply giving me one small piece of information. And as it turns out, it’s very good for my weight and for me.

More weight loss & diet advice:

4 Surprising Habits That Fight Cancer

When it comes to preventing cancer, you already know that eating fruits and vegetables can help lower your risk, as can regular exercise and nixing the cigarette habit. But the smart strategies don’t stop there. Here are four surprising yet easy-to-do habits that can help keep cancer at bay:

Healthy Habit No. 1: Floss.  
A recent study at the University at Buffalo in New York found that having chronic gum disease raises the risk for head and neck cancer. The best way to protect against gum disease is good oral hygiene, which includes regular flossing and brushing, says lead author Mine Tezal, a dental surgeon and assistant professor of oral biology at the University at Buffalo. Be sure to brush at least twice and floss once a day. Hate flossing? Here’s a tiny guide to creating the flossing habit.

Healthy Habit No. 2: Avoid the dry cleaners.
The dry cleaning process uses perchloroethylene (perc), a solvent that removes stains … and has been linked to cancer. Studies have found that people who work in dry cleaning facilities are at greater risk for certain types of cancer, including kidney cancer. The Environmental Protection Agency says perc is a human carcinogen and is working with dry cleaners to develop environmentally safe cleaning methods. In the meantime, do what you can to reduce your visits to the dry cleaner or visit an organic dry cleaner that doesn’t use perc.

Healthy Habit No. 3: Watch the size of your wine glass.
If you’re like many people, you may be drinking more than you think, says Kimberly Stump-Sutliff, a registered nurse and associate medical editor for the American Cancer Society. Many people drink from large glasses that contain considerably more than the 5 ounces of wine in a serving. For women, drinking more than one serving a day has been linked to cancer; men should limit their alcohol intake to no more than two servings a day.

Healthy Habit No. 4: Keep stress in check.
Although research on the link between stress and cancer isn’t conclusive, most experts agree that stress is not good for your health. Stress weakens your immune system, making it hard for the body to fend off the abnormal growth of malignant cells, says Moadel. Plus, stressed-out people tend to eat poorly, skip workouts and take up smoking -- all habits that up the odds of cancer. So do what it takes to at least minimize stress. Meditate, try yoga, make time to see your friends and keep these stress relief methods for every occasion in mind.

“Making smart lifestyle choices can reduce your chances of getting cancer and help you fight if you do,” says Alyson Moadel, Ph.D., director of the Psychosocial Oncology Program at the Montefiore-Einstein Center for Cancer Care and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, in the Bronx, N.Y. “Preventing cancer is all about taking care of your body, spirit and mind.”

What are your favorite ways to stay healthy?

Are You at Risk for Diabetes?

If you’re a woman, chances are you worry about breast cancer. But did you know that twice as many women die of diabetes each year?

In fact, one in 10 women over the age of 20 is diagnosed with type 2 diabetes -- and because diabetes has no clear symptoms, many more have it without even knowing. Could you be one of them? Here’s what you need to know about this killer disorder to help prevent it.

Why Is Diabetes Dangerous?
Diabetes wreaks havoc on your body by preventing it from using carbohydrates, its main source of energy. Normally, when you consume carbohydrates, your body converts them into glucose and then produces a hormone called insulin to make the glucose into energy. But with diabetes, your body can’t produce enough insulin, so the glucose builds up in your blood instead of becoming energy. This can lead to serious conditions, from blurred vision and gum disease, to kidney failure and coma.

What You Can Do Right Now
The good news is that you can help prevent diabetes. Make these smart lifestyle changes, and you’ll decrease your risk significantly:

1. Brush and floss like your life depends on it.
It does! A new study shows that developing gum disease can actually increase your blood sugar and, consequently, your risk of developing diabetes. This makes flossing and brushing more important than ever -- especially if you have other risk factors.

2. Walk 30 minutes a day.
The Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP), a major federal study, found that walking just half an hour a day reduces your chances of developing diabetes by 30 percent. “Even if you don’t see big results on the scale, you’re helping your insulin work better,” says Amy Campbell, a registered dietitian and diabetes educator at Joslin Diabetes Center.

3. Opt for the “plate method.”
To maintain your weight, Campbell suggests the “plate method,” where you designate a space on your plate for every type of nutrient you need. At every meal, fill your plate half with vegetables, a quarter with healthy protein (i.e., chicken, lean meat or fish), a quarter with a whole-grain carbohydrate (e.g., brown rice or a whole-wheat roll), then add a piece of a fruit or a low-fat yogurt on the side, and you’ve done it!

4. Swap brown for white.
Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health estimate that opting for brown rice instead of white can reduce your diabetes risk by 16 percent. Choose another type of whole grain, such as barley, and you’ll lower your risk by 36 percent!

5. Choose “whole” vs. “enriched.”
Go directly to the ingredients list when evaluating foods at the grocery story, says Campbell. “Look for the word ‘whole’ rather than ‘enriched’ -- whole-wheat or whole-grain rye, for example,” she says. Enriched products may sound healthy, but they are actually refined foods to which a few synthetic nutrients have been added to make up for the natural nutrients stripped during refining.

6. Learn to love salads.
Leafy greens do double duty when it comes to diabetes prevention. The magnesium in romaine, spinach and their dark-green brethren may help fight diabetes, but so does the vitamin D, says Campbell. Several studies show a link between low vitamin D levels and greater insulin resistance. Plus, eating plenty of high-volume produce makes you less likely to indulge in snack foods full of refined sugars.

7. Go nuts!
Eating 1 tablespoon of peanut butter or an ounce of nuts five or more times a week cuts your risk of diabetes by 20 to 30 percent, according to a Harvard School of Public Health study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

8. Know your risk.
Although anyone can develop type 2 diabetes, three factors increase your risk: age, family history and obesity. Also be aware of common symptoms, including the following:
  • Excessive thirst and urination
  • Tingling sensations at the hands and feet
  • Wounds that heal slowly
  • Red, inflamed, bleeding gums
  • Fatigue
  • Blurred vision
  • Increased number of vaginal yeast infections
If you are at risk or are concerned about any of these symptoms, talk to your doctor, who can check your glucose levels and give you a proper diagnosis.